5 Psychological Tricks to Help You Lose Weight

May 17, 2013

Positive psychology to lose weight

by Matthew Denos

You’ve tried flexing almost every muscle you have in the battle of the bulge, but you may have overlooked the most important one.  In fact, you are using it right now to read and understand – it’s your brain! The mind is a powerful thing and positive psychology teaches you how to program your brain to get results you want. You can have amazing results and bring about the weight loss and a better health you so desperately want to achieve.

Interested?  Here are five of the best psychological tricks to “manipulate” your mind to get the healthy body you want.

1. Give Yourself a Written Guarantee

In a published psychology study, scientists wanted to test the theory that writing about something important—not related to health, interestingly—might actually boost weight loss.  They had a group of college women come in, have their weight and Body Mass Index (BMI, a index that shows if you are obese or of normal weight) documented, and then write a list of things important to them in their lives.  Things like religion, friends, and relationships all topped most lists, with less significant things at the lower end.

The group was split in half, and the first half was asked to write a free form essay for 15 minutes (in other words, just sit down and write, no structure required, no grading) about one of the top items on their lists and explain why it is important for them.  The other group was asked to write about something far down the list, and not how it related to their own lives, but how it might be important to someone else.

Over half of the women were already overweight or obese, and the others were at a BMI very close to overweight.  All of them were unhappy with their weight.

After the 15 minute writing exercise, the women left, and came back to be measured again 2-3 months later.

The group who had written about strong values important to their own lives had lost an average of almost 4 pounds, while the group who had written about lesser values and not even relating them to their own lives had gained an average of almost 3 pounds! And the group who lost weight also had smaller waists, regardless of BMI.  None of these women had been told that the writing exercise had anything to do with losing weight.

Researchers conclude that writing about things important in our lives can trigger calm, centering us back to what is really important, and giving us a way to deal with stress and daily setbacks in life without reaching for food as a coping mechanism.  It can make us feel better about who we are, and free up mental resources to focus on goals and willpower.  Pretty amazing.  Go get your pen and start writing!

2. Give Your Body A Good Review

The more acceptive you are of who you are right now, the more likely you are to be able to lose weight.  People who have a negative self image of their bodies are much more likely to have trouble losing weight and keeping it off than their counterparts who don’t worry about their size, shape, or what others think of them.

A study I read in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity noted that women in the study who were taught techniques to handle diet setbacks, and to have a better body image all lost more weight than a second group who didn’t get that same training.

In some ways it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy—when you think you aren’t good enough, you act on those feelings, and undermine your own efforts with losing weight and being healthier.  So give yourself a break, and focus on all the great things about you.  When you are happier with yourself, you will treat yourself better, and know that you deserve to lose weight and feel good.

3. Eat With The Right Size of Fork


Another little mind game to win at weight loss is to use the big fork to eat at restaurants and the small fork to eat at home.  This one is a clear example of how your mind controls so much that you do, and you aren’t even aware of it!

Researchers from the University of Utah did some field experiments and found that, for a variety of reasons, diners in restaurant settings didn’t use the same cues to realize they were getting full as when they were at home.  When we eat at home we rely on our hormonal signals (feelings of satiety) in order to stop eating. Since it takes several minutes for our brain to send these signals after food reaches our stomach, by the time satiety kicks in those who eat fast using big forks end up taking in more food than those who eat slow using small forks.

In contrast, when we dine out researchers say that we pay attention to a visual and more immediate satiety signal: The size of the dent in the food on our plate. This is because when we go to a restaurant, we invest more time and money toward satisfying our hunger than when we eat at home. We are therefore more eager and impatient to see we are progressing toward our goal of satisfying our hunger.  Using a big fork means we make a big dent in our food and therefore we get an immediate and perhaps unconscious feedback that we are progressing well toward our goal. We soon stop eating. Using a small fork, on the other hand, means we make small dents in our food, and we receive a weaker cue of goal progress. You therefore keep eating for a longer time and end up eating more food.

That’s it.  Use the small fork at home and take small bites to help you eat less, but when you are dining out, bigger is better (in your cutlery at least!)

4. A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words… and Too Many Calories!


One study actually proved what most of us have always known—you see a picture of a delicious something, and you want to eat that delicious something, right now.  I know I’ve been watching TV and a food ad comes on—and suddenly I am hungry, no matter how much or when I just ate.

Researchers took a group of young males and studied how their bodies reacted to looking at pictures, of food and non-food items.  The ones with food had an immediate release of the food hormone ghrelin, which can give you that “I want to eat right now” feeling.

If you are on a diet, be aware of how sneaky advertising and cooking shows can be in tricking your mind into wanting to eat when you see pictures of food.

5. Sleeping Enough Can Mean Eating Less

Your body and mind need adequate cycles of sleep to function in top order.  Think of a car—if you never tune it up, put in the worst fuel, don’t wash it, and let the tires get bald and low on air, that car will never perform right and eventually you will ruin the worth.  You are like that too; your body needs to be treated well to perform well.

When you don’t get adequate sleep—7-8 hours or more really is best—your mind is much more likely to let you overeat. And since lack of sleep is becoming pretty common, it might explain part of why today 2 out of 3 people in the US are overweight or obese.

Uppsala University researchers did a study involving a group of young men who were deprived of a night’s sleep and then tested in a variety of ways.  Brain activity and hormones showed high levels of wanting to eat. Moreover, the participants metabolism was lower the morning after not sleeping. A low metabolism, eating more, moving less, and feeling more stressful are all things that tend to go hand in hand with weight gain, or trouble losing weight.

So listen to your mother, and get a good night’s sleep!

Your mind can be your best friend while dieting. If you take for granted all the things your mind can do, you might find yourself struggling with weight gain and the inability to lose it for reasons you can’t explain. Fill it with positive thoughts and the right images, and you are programming the power of your brain to help you lose weight and be healthy.  No wonder you always hear, “think thin!”

Image Credit: Hilde Skjolberg